Any self-respecting movie lover has, at some point, fallen foul of the Police Academy films. While it’s all too easy to dismiss them out of hand, I doubt there is anyone who doesn’t raise even the slightest of smiles when recalling the Blue Oyster Bar or Tackleberry’s overenthusiastic firearms training. The series certainly outstayed its welcome and hasn’t aged all that well but the first few efforts are still worth picking up on the cheap.
Aside from the risible latter efforts, the success of those early Police Academy films was responsible for much, much worse. During the 80s, Neal Isreal, the man behind Mahoney, Hightower et al, retread the same comedic ground with a couple of similarly themed films that quite failed to repeat his previous box office success. In 1985, he directed Moving Violations, a film in which a bunch of bad drivers are sent to traffic school to keep them on the straight and narrow. Despite its relative lack of success, Isreal refused to throw in the towel and a year later came up with Combat Academy.
I bought Combat Academy years ago from a supermarket bargain bin during a very, very quiet weekend. The cover drew me in. Various actors in kooky poses, inviting you in to their wacky world of fun. ‘What hilarity’, I thought. ‘These guys look a fun bunch to spend an hour and a half with’. Also, in bold garish letters, the cover proclaimed ‘George Clooney in…’. A big fan of the Cloonster, this was worth owning just to add to the collection. As it is, you won’t be surprised to hear, Gorgeous George hardly features in a distinctly unmemorable role, his presence on the sleeve there to suck stupid people like me in.
So to the plot, such as it is. Two prank-loving misfits get sent to a military academy to make them wise up to their practical jokes. Naturally, on arrival they encounter some kooky, crazy cats, moderately attractive females, a tough, no-nonsense military officer and get in to lots of hilarious scrapes. However, it’s not all fun and games as the Ruskies are in town and they want to take our heroes and their platoon on at some war games. Along the way, they discover that, most importantly of all, friendship really matters and, hey, growing up can be tough. Yup, it’s THAT kind of film.
Where those early Police Academy flicks had a moderately charming star in Steve Guttenberg, plus a supporting cast of characters with whom you could genuinely laugh at (Corporal Jones, I’m looking at you), Combat Academy unwisely places all its trust in its film’s leads. Needless to say, the ever-gurning Keith Gordon and brilliantly named Wally Ward (who has since gone on to star in various TV shows, including CSI, under the far more sensible name Wallace Langham) just don’t cut it. Gordon in particular is a persistent annoyance whenever he’s given any screen time. Mugging to camera, utterly charmless and seemingly devoid of any comedic acting talent, it’s genuinely heart-breaking to see the Christine star piss away the opportunity that Hollywood undoubtedly gave him.
With no stand-out scenes to recall, a bog standard plot that was handled far better in Bill Murray’s earlier Stripes, and not enough screentime for the Cloondog, Combat Academy was the start of a glut of disappointing ventures from Isreal. As Mahoney and the rest trained Citizens On Patrol, the gang ditched Mahoney to go to Miami Beach, police a City Under Siege and go on a Mission To Moscow, cinema audiences just wanted them to go anywhere but in their auditoriums. He wouldn’t have another big hit, although on the bright side he hasn’t been involved in anything quite as bad as Combat Academy.
The DVD cost me £2.99. That’s money I’ll never get back.